A reputed gang member was sentenced today to 77 years to life in state prison for fatally shooting a rival gang member after the two men quarreled over a choice of music at a party in East Oakland 10 years ago.Jurors only deliberated for three hours last month before convicting Omar Gonzalez, 34, of first-degree murder for the death of 21-year-old Rene Castillo at a party at a welding shop in the vicinity of 86th Avenue and E Street early the morning of June 23, 2001.
Jurors also convicted Gonzalez of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a firearm for attacking two other victims in the incident.Prosecutor Tim Wellman said he was “pleased” that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Joan Cartwright ordered Gonzalez to serve his terms for his first-degree murder and attempted murder convictions consecutively. Defense attorney Al Wax had asked that Gonzalez be allowed to serve his terms concurrently,which would have resulted in a total sentence of 50 years to life.Wellman said Gonzalez’s prison term is “sufficient” because he won’t be eligible for parole until after he’s 100 years old.
Wellman told jurors in his closing argument that Gonzalez and Castillo were both from El Salvador and were friends, even though mutual acquaintances said Gonzalez was a member of the Sureno gang and Castillo was a member of the rival Border Brothers gang.But Wellman said the two men got into a fight when Gonzalez, who had been playing a CD by the late rap star Tupac Shakur, started playing a CD with lyrics that touted the Sureno gang and Castillo objected.
Other people at the party broke up the fight, and Castillo, who worked as a janitor at a sports stadium in San Francisco and was known as “Droopy” to his friends, walked away to rest in his van and calm down, according to Wellman.The prosecutor said Gonzalez, whose nickname is “Trucha,” then grabbed a .30-caliber rifle, marched outside and screamed that he wanted to kill Castillo.He alleged that Gonzalez first tried to kill another man, but the rifle jammed and didn’t fire.
Gonzalez then found Castillo and shot him in the back at least twice, Wellman said. Castillo died at the scene.Four witnesses identified Gonzalez as the shooter, Wellman said. He said Castillo also implicated Gonzalez, saying, “Trucha killed me” just before he died.After the shooting, Gonzalez fled to Houston, where he used an alias, according to Wellman.Gonzalez was located in September 2008 when his girlfriend called police in Houston to report that he had assaulted her.
Police then learned there was a murder warrant for him in Oakland.Wax couldn’t be reached for comment after the sentencing today.After the jury announced its verdict, Wax said Gonzalez was “extremely disappointed” and believes that one day he will be exonerated.Wax said Gonzalez believes he was framed and that Castillo was killed by fellow Border Brothers because he no longer wanted to be a part the gang.But Wellman said today that jurors didn’t believe Gonzalez and “saw through the lies and ridiculous tale” that he told.Castillo’s mother and sister attended the sentencing, as did several of his friends, but they didn’t speak.
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